One thing can be said about the St. Frances girls basketball program: It doesn’t rebuild, just reloads.
The No. 2 Panthers are headed back to the IAAM A Conference championship game after a dominating 65-34 victory over fifth-ranked St. Vincent Pallotti in East Baltimore. Senior post And’ea Cherisier finished with a game-high 22 points for St. Frances.
The Panthers (23-3 overall) closed the first half strong, then flexed on Pallotti in the second half, securing a seventh straight final appearance. St. Frances, the No. 2 seed, will play defending champ and top-ranked McDonogh, Monday night at 6 at Harford Community College’s APGFCU Arena for the crown.
The Panthers, who graduated half of their roster last season, haven’t missed a beat with a core of talented freshman playing major roles this winter. The senior trio of Cherisier, Kameryn Dorsey and Kimmya Hicks have been the engine, and it was no different Thursday.
Cheriser, who will play for the University of Delaware next season, was a force inside. Hicks (Loyola commit) recorded 13 points and four rebounds. Dorsey (nine points, seven assists) led multiple fast breaks as St. Frances put the game out reach midway through the fourth.
“Defense and rebounding,” said Cherisier of her squad’s second half effort.
“We rebounded the ball very well today and when we get out in transition we are much more effective,” longtime Panthers coach Jerome Shelton said. “We hit open shots today and we played through our strengths.”
The game was relatively close until the last minute of the first half. Leading 23-19 with two minutes left, St. Frances closed with an 8-1 scoring run led by Cherisier, who scored three back-to-back buckets off feeds from Dorsey to secure a 33-22 halftime advantage.
The Panthers didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal, expanding the lead to 47-30 after three quarters. Dahni Suggs, a 6-foot-2 freshman, provided rim protection on the defensive end and finished with 11 rebounds. Another freshman, Mone’t Edwards poured in 10 points, including three long distance 3-pointers in the fourth.
Pallotti (18-10) was held to only one field goal in the fourth and 12 points in the second half. Gabrielle Clary finished with 10 points for Pallotti.
Boasting a young and talented roster, Pallotti showed flashes during the regular season, but was unable to solve St. Frances, which won all three meetings this season.
Pallotti last defeated St. Frances in 2014.
“They (St. Frances) just outplayed us,” Pallotti coach Rashida Joiner said. “Our game plan just never really worked.”
For the 16th time, St. Frances will play for the IAAM A crown Monday. The Panthers will rematch with McDonogh, which ended their five-year championship run with a 77-65 decision in last year’s final at APGFCU Arena.
St. Frances split with McDonogh during the regular season.
The Panthers have won a record 14 IAAM A championships.
“It’s going to take a total team effort obviously to get to the mountain top so to speak,” said Shelton, whose team has lost only twice - last year and 2009 (Seton Keough) - in the title game. “The game will depend on a few things – small things probably – but I’m looking forward to it, my team is looking forward to it as well.”
IAAM A CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
NO. 2 ST. FRANCES 65, NO. 5 ST. VINCENT PALLOTTI 34
Pallotti 11 11 8 4 — 34
St. Frances 17 16 14 18 — 65
Pallotti - Clary 10, Anthony 9, Edison 4, Jones-Howard 4, Harris-Mott 3, Whitely 2, Amaoteng 2. Totals 11 9-16 34.
St. Frances - Cherisier 22, Hicks 13, Edwards 10, Dorsey 9, Suggs 7, Rurka 2, Sutton 2. Totals 25 10-16 65.